4 - I. II. III. IV. The Meno, Part I The Questions of the...

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The Meno, Part I I. The Questions of the Dialogue The dialogue begins with Meno asking Socrates a question about virtue. The question is whether virtue is something that is innate or whether it is something acquired. Socrates claims that, unlike many others, he does not know the answer to this question. In fact, he does not even know what virtue is. Immediately the focus in the dialogue shifts to this second question (call it the primary question): what is virtue? Socrates distinction indicates something important. Many of the questions we ask presuppose more fundamental questions. Therefore, the answers that we give to some questions presuppose answers to more fundamental questions. Socrates is attempting to examine a fundamental assumption, something presupposed in Meno’s initial question. If we can’t answer the more basic or fundamental question, then we can’t reasonably answer Meno’s first question. II. Meno’s Attempt to Answer the Primary Question Meno attempts to answer Socrates’ question first by appealing to the "wisdom" of his teacher Gorgias. But Socrates wants Meno to tell him what he (Meno) thinks. Meno’s own answers are consistently incorrect. His first answer involves giving examples of virtue. There is manly virtue, womanly virtue, slave virtue, and child virtue. But as Socrates points out, this answer does not tell him what virtue itself is. It would be like defining a car by listing types of cars. We need to know what they all have in common. Meno expresses some confusion with the question at hand, but attempts another definition. He defines it as "the capacity to govern men." Socrates gets him to see rather quickly that this definition is inadequate because slaves (who by Meno’s own standard can be virtuous) do not have the capacity to govern men AND one can govern men unjustly and this would not be virtuous. So the definition proposes a definition of virtue
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4 - I. II. III. IV. The Meno, Part I The Questions of the...

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